The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has made it much harder for applicants to get H-1B and L-1 visas since 2008 and this is disproportionately affecting Indian applicants.
The National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP), a think tank based in Arlington, Virginia, says that its analysis of USCIS figures shows that the tougher line is affecting Indian applicants particularly hard and that the tougher line is damaging the US economy.
H-1B visas are granted to graduates from overseas who are skilled in a 'specialty occupation'. These visas are usually issued for a three year initial period though they can be extended. Successful applicants can bring their close family members with them.
L-1 visas are intra company transfer visas which allow companies that have offices in the US and elsewhere to transfer management and specialized knowledge level employees to the US. You need to have worked for the overseas business for at least one year out of the last three years. Managers can apply for an L-1A visa which will last for up to seven years. Skilled employees with 'specialized knowledge' of the overseas business can apply for L-1B visas. Both these visas allow holders to take their family to stay with them while they are in the US.
In 2006, only 1.7% of initial applications for L-1B visas were refused. By 2009, this figure had risen to 22.5%. In 2010, the figure fell to 10.5% but it rose again to 13.4% for 2011.
In 2009, USCIS rejected 1,640 L-1B applications from Indians which is more than the combined total for 2000-2008; 1,341.
In 2011, the number of L-1 visas issued in India fell, whereas those issued around the world rose. Stuart Anderson of NFAP told India Post, 'US Citizenship and Immigration Services Adjudicators have demonstrated a capacity to keep skilled foreign nationals out of the US by significantly increasing denials along with often time-consuming Requests for Evidence, despite no change in the law or relevant regulations.'
Even when L-1 visas were eventually granted, US consular staff often ask for further details before approving applications which, according to Mr Anderson, are sometimes pointless. The report recommends that there should be better training for consular staff who adjudicate on applications. It says that there is a danger that companies which need to transfer staff to the US in order to run their operations effectively, may instead decide to conduct more of their business outside America to avoid the trouble and expense of applying for an US visa, thereby damaging the US economy.
Indeed, USCIS figures may bear this out. The numbers of applications for L-1 visas from India has fallen. There were 40% fewer L-1B applications from India in 2011 than in 2010. Indian companies have reported that US consular staff do not accept it when companies claim that an employee has 'specialized knowledge'.
Software giant Oracle reports that 38% of its L-1B applications were rejected in 2011. It reports that consular staff rejected one application on the basis that the applicant did not have specialized knowledge of a particular programme despite the fact that he had written the guidebook about it.
However, the US Bureau of Consular Affairs denies that there has been bias. It states 'we have seen an uptick in unqualified applicants [for L-1B visas] due to a much broader use of complex 'specialized knowledge' provisions as the basis of L-1 applications, which may account for the perception of increased refusals.'
Some Indian citizens are looking to use B-1/B-2 visas instead. B1 visas are US visas granted to business travellers. B1 visas and B2 visas are almost always issued as B1/B2 combined business/tourism visas.
With a B1 visa businessmen are entitled to
• conduct negotiations for their business
• solicit sales or investment,
• discuss investments or purchases
• make investments or purchases
• attend meetings
• interview and hire staff
• conduct research.
They are not, however, entitled to
• run a business
• carry out 'gainful employment'
• be paid by any US company
• participate in sporting or entertainment events as a professional.
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